Updated: October 27, 2021 1:06:44 pm
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered an independent probe into allegations of unauthorised surveillance using the Pegasus software. The apex court asked a three-member committee to look into the matter, and submit a report.
The apex court was hearing 12 petitions in the matter, including those filed by the Editors Guild of India; journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar, Pranjoy Guha Thakurta; Trinamool Congress leader Yashwant Sinha; and academic Jagdeep S Chhokar.
Here are 10 key points from Supreme Court order on Pegasus:
1. The committee has been asked to enquire, investigate and determine various aspects of the issue, including if the Pegasus software was used on devices of Indian citizens, if the software was acquired by any individuals or State/Central government agencies, and the actions the government took following hacking reports in 2019. It has also been asked to provide its expert recommendations on how to enhance cybersecurity measures in the nation, legally and otherwise, with ample focus on privacy and redressal mechanism.
2. It will be supervised by retired judge Justice R V Raveendran. The former Supreme Court Justice is a highly-respected member of the law community, and was recently referred by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana as “one of the legends who have increased the prestige of the Supreme Court of India”. In the order, the Court asked Justice Raveendran to “oversee the functioning of the Committee with respect to the methodology to be adopted, procedure to be followed, enquiry and investigation that is carried out and preparation of the report.”
3. The committee will be made up of three technical members. They are Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Dean of National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar; Dr Prabaharan P, Prof Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Kerala; and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
The details of the individual members are as follows:
* Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary is a Professor of Cyber Security and Digital Forensics with over 20 years of experience in his field. He specialises in cyber security policy, network vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, according to the Court order.
* Dr Prabaharan P too has over 20 years of experience in computer science and security areas. According to the Supreme Court, his areas of interest are malware detection, critical infrastructural security, complex binary analysis, AI and machine learning.
* Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste, who was visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, is a field expert with 20 US patents to his name. He has published over 150 papers and authored 3 books in his field, states the SC order.
4. Registrar Virender Kumar Bansal has been assigned the role of the coordinate. His duties include coordinating between the Committee, Justice Raveendran and the central and state governments to “facilitate communication and ensure smooth functioning”.
5. Two officials have been assigned to assist Justice Raveendran. They are IPS officer Alok Joshi and ISO chairman Dr Sundeep Oberoi.
Joshi, a 1976 batch officer, has previously worked at the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the National Technical Research Organisation. Dr Oberoi is a cyber security expert who is a part of the Advisory Board of Cyber Security Education and the Research Centre at Indraprastha Institute o Information Technology in Delhi.
6. The committee is expected to submit a detailed report to the Supreme Court bench. The court will take take up the matter after eight weeks.
7. While passing the order, the Court stressed on the importance of privacy and technology. The court noted that while technology can be used to improve the lives of people, it can also be used to invade privacy. Certain limitations exist when it comes to privacy but the restrictions have to pass constitutional muster, it said.
8. Responding to the Centre’s argument invoking national security, the court said that though it must be circumspect, mere invoking of the national security argument does not render the Court a mute spectator.
9. The court, which convened via video conferencing, had declined the Centre’s request to let it constitute the committee. The Union of India “may decline to provide information when constitutional considerations exist, such as those pertaining to the security of the State,” the top court said, adding this does not mean that the State gets a free pass every time the spectre of “national security” is raised.
10. Noting the importance of free speech in a democracy, the court said: “It is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights. Such a scenario might result in selfcensorship. This is of particular concern when it relates to the freedom of the press, which is an important pillar of democracy.”
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